Rickets is the softening and weakening of bones in children, usually because of an extreme and prolonged vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the gastrointestinal tract. A deficiency of vitamin D makes it difficult to maintain proper calcium and phosphorus levels in bones, which can cause rickets.
If a vitamin D or calcium deficiency causes rickets, adding vitamin D or calcium to the diet generally corrects any resulting bone problems for your child. Rickets due to a genetic condition may require additional medications or other treatment. Some skeletal deformities caused by rickets may need corrective surgery.
Signs and symptoms of rickets may include:
Because rickets softens the growth plates at the ends of a child's bones, it can cause skeletal deformities such as:
When to see a doctor
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus from food. Rickets can occur if your child's body doesn't get enough vitamin D or if his or her body has problems using vitamin D properly.
Lack of vitamin D
Problems with absorption
Factors that may increase a child's risk of rickets include:
If left untreated, rickets may lead to:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll likely start by seeing your family doctor or a pediatrician. Depending on the cause of your child's symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During the exam, the doctor will gently press on your child's bones, checking for abnormalities. He or she will pay particular attention to your child's:
X-rays of the affected bones can reveal bone deformities. Blood and urine tests can confirm a diagnosis of rickets and also monitor the progress of treatment.
Treatments and drugs
Most cases of rickets can be treated with vitamin D and calcium supplements. Follow your doctor's directions as to dosage, which may vary by the size of your child. Too much vitamin D can be dangerous.
Surgical and other procedures
Most adolescents and adults receive much of their necessary vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Infants and young children, however, need to avoid direct sun entirely or be especially careful by always wearing sunscreen.
Make sure your child is eating foods that contain vitamin D naturally — fatty fish, fish oil and egg yolks — or that have been fortified with vitamin D, such as:
Because human milk contains only a small amount of vitamin D, all breast-fed infants should receive 400 international units (IU) of oral vitamin D daily.
Last Updated: 2013-06-01
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